I’ve attended a few client dinners and company-sponsored lunches, and I’ve noticed some interesting trends about myself and my colleagues when it comes to eating in the workplace. Maybe it’s because I’m early in my career, but it seems to transcend into the senior ranks as well. So, without further adieu, a few observations:
No one wants to be the first to take the bread or chips on the table. I love bread, and I grew up in a family that obliterates bread. Those loaves at Italian restaurants? Yeah, we’re going to need 3 of those to keep us happy until you bring out our drinks. At Mexican restaurants, the waiter quickly discovers that we each need an individual basket of chips, because otherwise, they’ll spend their whole evening replacing our basket. We just LOVE bread and chips! But, when I sit down with my work colleagues, I suddenly feel restricted to one piece of bread. And, I don’t want to be the first to reach for it. This is silly, because everyone is staring at the bread, wishing they could take a piece, and then someone awkwardly offers me the first piece because I’m usually the only woman at the table! Then, no one wants to eat more bread than anyone else, so we all end up with a half-eaten roll on our plates, wishing we could take seconds from the bread basket. So, if we’re all thinking it, why is it so hard to just take the first piece, go back for seconds if you want it, and finish what’s on your plate?
No one wants to take the last piece. The accounting department ordered pizza the other day, and since I sit on the same floor as the accounting department, they invited me to join them. We had the awkward “take the first slice” moment (similar to the bread moment mentioned above!), and we ended up with three extra slices of pizza. Those slices have been sitting in the fridge for 3 days, because no one wants to be “greedy” and take the last piece. Again, this is silly, as we all probably could have eaten one more slice, thus enjoying the meal more, and reducing waste. But, we have to be polite, and apparently it’s more polite to waste food than to be greedy. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that I thought about eating the leftover slices, but since the food was technically meant for the accounting department, and I’m not in accounting, I felt that I shouldn’t take “their” food!
No one wants to be a glutton. It may not look like it, but I can eat A LOT of food. Like, inhale-a-large-pizza-and-dessert amount of food. When I’m with my husband or my parents and siblings, I go back for seconds, and sometimes, thirds of each item. I eat pie and ice cream, baskets of chips, and an entire platter of fajitas and fixings! But, once again, put me with my co-workers, and I start trying to match their food intake. It seems like everyone else does this, because everyone rarely finishes their dinner. Again, this is silly, because we know we’d love to finish the fabulous meal, but we don’t want people to think we’re gluttonous, so instead, we let them think we’re wasteful.
Everyone uses overly-exaggerated manners. It’s always really awkward to go to a pizza place or barbeque place with my co-workers, because everyone tries to use their fancy manners when it’s just not that conducive. Consider paper napkins: they just don’t go in your lap the same way that cloth napkins do! This is especially true when you consider that a lot of places that have paper napkins also serve the type of food that’s best eaten with your hands. Does it really make sense to try to eat a slice of pizza with a fork and knife, holding your paper napkin in your lap? NO. If you don’t want to see this type of normal dining behavior, you should pick a different restaurant! I’m not talking about courtesy, like chewing with your mouth closed, but rather logistics. We love some good barbeque in our southern aviation dinners, so that probably means we should eat the barbeque “properly”… ie: usually best with your fingers. If you’re offended by finger-food, go somewhere that doesn’t serve it!
It’s just hilarious, because we’re all trying to be on our best behavior with our colleagues, and yet we’re all just regular people that like to eat copious amounts of bread with our fingers. This is also incongruent with the ever-present “keep up with the Jones” mentality that glorifies having more, more, more! We want bigger houses, fancier cars, and fashionable clothes, but we can’t eat that last piece of bread? We can’t clean our plates, lest we look greedy? We push to negotiate for a higher starting salary, but we can’t bring ourselves to take that last slice of pizza! So, I ask, are you “real” when you eat with your colleagues?